An Nuacht is déanaí le

Gaeltacht in danger of being silenced

Gaeltacht in danger of being silenced

The long process of re-aligning the State’s Irish language strategy has reached a conclusion in the depth of economic recession.

The effort of 10 years, culminating in the Government’s 20 Year Strategy for Irish, now risks being lost due to the lack of resources to implement the strategy. The irony of our predicament is that the state and government have invested time and resources in this language strategy, but that the issue has become marginal in the broader political and sociological sphere. A case in point being the limited discussion in English-speaking Ireland of the implications for the survival of native Irish set out in the 2007 report Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht - in contrast to the far wider discussion of Leaving Cert Irish as initiated by the Fine Gael leadership. We will have an indication of the new Government’s priorities for the Strategy in the drafting of the Budget for 2012.
Irish-speaking communities must appeal to majority language populations for support and co-operation to sustain minority languages and cultures as living entities, but language endangerment is generally a non-issue in majority language societies. Most of the world’s circa 6000 languages are for the first time in history endangered or moribund. The level of impending loss can be clearly seen in that only 4% of the world’s population speak 96% of the world’s languages.
In Ireland the national, linguistic and cultural revival since the latter half of the nineteenth century has been our response to the intruding globalised monolinguistic cultures, i.e. globalising English, and has been Ireland’s contribution to the maintenance of the world’s linguistic heritage and diversity. Irish is the principle endangered language within our ambit. The predicted loss of native Irish in the next twenty years will be viewed as a local and national travesty as well as a major dereliction of our duty to world culture. A fatalistic or laissez-faire approach to this uncomfortable truth will greatly undermine the credibility of any contribution emanating from Ireland to this vital debate. Nevertheless, given our experiences in over a century of analysis and strategy, Ireland can offer intellectual leadership in this regard since the national and constitutional status of Irish, with its panoply of institutional supports, is an international rarity. The State’s 20 Year Strategy for Irish, published in December 2010, is the most significant realignment of Irish language strategy since the foundation of the State. It represents a strategy for institutions rather than a dynamic engagement with the actual needs of Irish-speaking communities.

Among the Strategy’s main deficiencies are:
i.Its failure to prioritise supports for the home use of Irish, particularly in the Gaeltacht where such support would have a greater likelihood of a return on state investment.

ii.Its overwhelming focus on Irish language learners fails to distinguish first language and second language requirements.

iii.The most critical level for intervention in the Gaeltacht, i.e. the home-school-community nexus, is not afforded sufficient focus.

iv.A tacit abandonment of the State’s original national vision for cultural revival without proffering a cogent ideology as an alternative.

Perhaps these weaknesses can be rectified in the implementation of the Strategy as it evolves, but as it stands it can be compellingly portrayed as a costly and ineffectual palliative care model for dying Irish without disclosing its real intent to the patient or its carers, i.e. Irish speakers and Irish language institutions. It is unclear how the Strategy’s proposed supports for the Irish language sector will provide a sufficiently dynamic boost to the remnants of the Gaeltacht and to the learner community. This sectoral approach of the Strategy represents an anaemic response to serious issues of linguistic meltdown in the Gaeltacht. It appears to be a strategy towards a post-Gaeltacht Ireland; it is not a strategy for native Irish communities or their regeneration. The Gaeltacht in common with many minority language communities, no longer has the critical demographic and social density in all age groups necessary for the viability of this proposed delayed bilingual strategy. A prerequisite for such communities is the local reconsolidation of a critical mass of active native speakers.

A confident re-articulation of ethno-linguistic traditions and aspirations grounded in social reality rather than just in an occasionalised performative aesthetic of the minority culture as currently portrayed and permitted. The insouciance of dominant language perspectives is a stark challenge to the viability of ethnolinguistic diversity. The four alternative strategies outlined here offer in turn a challenge to this indifference and to the impending global annihilation of minority languages.

Conchúr Ó Giollagáin and Brian Ó Curnáin contribute to the MA program in Language Planning of Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, NUI Galway. They are currently editing An Chonair Chaoch: an Mionteangachas sa Dátheangachas [The Blind Alley: The Minority Language Condition and Bilingualism] which will be published later this year by Leabhar Breac.

Irish Examiner - Conchúr Ó Giollagáin & Brian Ó Curnáin
5 Lúnasa 2011

Irish Examiner - Conchúr Ó Giollagáin and Brian Ó Curnáin

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